“America Runs Relaxes on Dunkin.” Or so the strapline may soon read.

Dunkin Donuts has set in motion a cafe-style customer experience redesign that rolled out in 90 stores and will be finished in 600 stores by the end of 2013. They have added comfortable faux leather chairs, free wi-fi, flat-panel televisions, jazz music and even updated the menus to digital.

All in hopes of, as CEO Nigel Travis told Bloomberg, “being conducive to that relaxed environment.”

The shift in Dunkin Donuts’ brand experience can be seen in two ways.

First, that Dunkin is trying to meet a shift in their target persona’s behavior. Or second, Dunkin is shifting it’s to reach a new market.

I can’t derive from their statements which is true, but from a brand perspective, I hope one of them is.


The interior of a redesigned Dunkin’ Donuts interior. **Photo curtesy of Rachel Tepper.

Too often, brands evolve because their competitors do. This strategy mistakes points of parity for points of differentiation and spends too much time and capital trying to offer a slightly better experience than the “other guys.”

This type of brand evolution is mind-numbing to your target persona. It doesn’t work to deepen your relationship and only validates your competition more.

When Jack In The Box started offering free wi-fi in 2008, McDonald’s quickly followed suit. Then Burger King, Taco Bell, etc. It was a frenzy of the fast food giants to make sure no one could differentiate with internet access.

As brand-thinking would have informed them, no one really goes to a fast food restaurant for the free wi-fi. On top of that, it introduced a terrible new dynamic to the relationship they had with their customers – get your fast food and then stay here and relax. Can you see the contrast?

This new relational dynamic – in stark contrast to the primary brand promise – didn’t settle with customers who had come to rely on a fast food experience that was, well, fast.

Brands evolve because people evolve. A shift in your target persona’s behavior or a move to reach a new market will signal an evolutionary cycle of your brand experience.

Absent those criteria, continue to deliver your brand experience in a reliable way…and work tofind some intentional room for delight. Be confident in your relationships with your customers.

For Dunkin Donuts’ sake, I hope they haven’t traded their core relationship with their customers, to run, just to look more like Starbucks’ relax.